American Jewish leaders’ silence and appeasement

They must finally confront left-wing antisemitism before it captures the leadership class.

Pro-BDS protests in Washington, D.C., in 2014. Credit: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Shutterstock.
Pro-BDS protests in Washington, D.C., in 2014. Credit: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Shutterstock.
Henry Kopel
Henry Kopel is a former federal prosecutor and the author of War on Hate: How to Stop Genocide, Fight Terrorism and Defend Freedom (Lexington Books, 2021).

Eight decades after the Holocaust, antisemitism is back. In fact, it is surging. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) compared the number of antisemitic incidents in the years 2011-2015 to 2016-2020, and reported that it had doubled.

What is driving this resurgence of hate? Unfortunately, many Jewish leaders do not seem to know.

In the aftermath of World War II, there were two principal sources of antisemitism, both identified with the political right: The pervasive genteel antisemitism of “no Jews need apply” and the violent antisemitism of groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

The vast majority of American Jews were politically liberal, so American Jewish leaders needed no encouragement to recognize and confront those forms of antisemitism.

But recent decades have seen four new and virulent forms of antisemitism emerge in America. All are associated with the political left.

The most pervasive is what author David Bernstein has called “Woke antisemitism.” Grounded in Critical Race Theory and promoted by the diversity industry, it depicts Jews as “white adjacent” and unfairly privileged. Thus, Jews are deemed complicit in a system of “structural racism.” This mindset is hegemonic in most university administrations. K-12 schools now promote it through such initiatives as California’s “liberated” ethnic studies curriculum.

Also highly influential on campus is virulent anti-Israelism. Embraced by Middle East studies departments, this ideology brands Israel an illegitimate “settler-colonial” enterprise. The Jewish state, it is claimed, committed an attempted genocide against indigenous Palestinian Arabs in 1948.

The third new form of antisemitism flows from the more radicalized sectors of the Muslim community. Though far from a majority view among American Muslims, a number of mosques have embraced annihilationist anti-Israelism and Jew-hatred.

The last form comes from a small but violent subgroup in the black community, mainly radicalized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s Jew-hating propaganda.

In regard to these four new threats, much of the organized American Jewish community has yet to find its voice. Therein lies the problem, because these threats have had terrible consequences.

As summed up by Charles Jacobs and Avi Goldwasser:

The Jewish community is under siege. … According to the FBI, Jews are the primary targets of hate crimes in America. … Jews are being beaten in the streets of New York City, murdered in Pittsburgh, San Diego and Jersey City, stabbed in Boston, taken hostage in Texas, and harassed and bullied on college campuses across the country. … Most Jewish buildings require [armed] security. Israel … is defamed and demonized by mainstream media, and maligned in both … Congress and the United Nations.

Even though these four new forms of antisemitism are all connected to the left, many Jewish leaders still focus on right-wing antisemitism. These leaders tend to appease rather than confront the left on this issue.

In its anti-bias trainings, the ADL has actually incorporated the same critical race concepts that stigmatize Jews as “white adjacent” oppressors of “people of color.” Many Jewish institutions also embrace such ideas, even demanding that their members atone for “white privilege.”

When President Donald Trump denounced in rather boorish fashion the blatant antisemitism of the group of leftist congresspeople known as “the Squad,” the ADL published an op-ed defending the Squad and denouncing Trump, with just one throwaway sentence about the Squad’s “troubling” comments.

To be fair, the ADL just released its first ever report on left-wing antisemitism. But the report limited its discussion to “the political left in Europe.” The ADL described the problem in Europe as “a bellwether for what is to come for the U.S. Jewish community.” This language minimizes the tsunami of Israel-hatred and antisemitism already surging across America and gaining influence in the Democratic Party.

This selective timidity of Jewish leaders could not come at a worse time. Annihilationist anti-Israelism is embedded in the “critical” pedagogies rapidly spreading across K-12 education. In Los Angeles and other major school districts, California’s mandatory ethnic studies course teaches outright lies, claiming that Jews are not indigenous to the Middle East and Israel is guilty of genocide against the Palestinians. Massachusetts’ K-12 curriculum guides contain similar libels.

At Princeton University this fall, a Middle East Studies course includes materials that falsely accuse Israel of deliberately maiming innocent Palestinians and harvesting their organs. Such blood libels are now common on campus.

Yet still today, many Jewish Federations across the country ignore their members’ calls to robustly confront this bigoted propaganda. For over a year, several of us urged our leaders in the New Haven Federation to discuss and address these problems, emphasizing that antisemitism on the left is now embedded in both the university and K-12 education sectors. Their response was that our “right-wing extremism” would not be given a platform.

In sum, amid the left’s proliferation of blood libels and calls to destroy Israel, many American Jewish leaders prefer silence. By this willful inaction, they give our leading civic institutions a permission slip to indoctrinate the next generation in annihilationist Israel-hatred.

It is often said that the Holocaust taught the American Jewish community the high cost of silence amid existential threats. But it now appears that we learned this lesson only for threats from the far-right. Applying that lesson to the hate flowing from the political left must become a top priority before America’s rising leadership class adopts their teachers’ and professors’ relentless antisemitic propaganda.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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